Authors: Ellen Gardner
Papa had bragged so much about the Rogue Valley climate that the rest of the family started movin out too. First it was just Bea and her husband, Gabe, then pretty soon Wilbert and George come out, and finally even Lettie and Zelda. Once the whole family was back together, and Mama had found a church, she really didn’t want to be movin anymore. Then Papa bought himself a Model T Ford, and that was a real worry to Mama. Partly ’cause she didn’t trust his drivin and partly ’cause it give him the chance to look for property farther away.
Even though Mama didn’t trust Papa’s drivin, we did have to git to church. So ever Saturday Mama told Papa to get the car ready. He’d put down his coffee cup and go outside to the Ford. We’d hear crank, crank, crank, putt, putt, putt, BANG! Crank, crank, crank, putt, putt, putt, BANG, “Goddamn it!” Mama’d go to the door and holler, “Miles! It’s the Sabbath!”
Then it’d start over, crank, crank, crank, putt, putt, putt, BANG! After five or six tries, the putt, putt got steady. “She’s runnin now,” Papa’d yell. “If ya don’t come on, you’ll be late.” Mama’d be so put out at him for usin bad language she wouldn’t say a word to him all the way to church.
And what Mama feared happened. Papa traded our place in Evans Creek for one in a little town called Cave Junction, forty miles or so out the Redwood Highway, and Mama didn’t dare fight him. So, like all the other times, she said, “We’ll just have to make the best of it.”
That was the year I turned thirteen and I didn’t want to make the best of it. I didn’t want to move. I liked my school and my teacher, Miss Hunicutt. I had girlfriends. And there was that red-headed boy, Thomas, that ever since Valentine’s Day was sneakin me notes and pieces of candy. I cried so much, Mama said if I didn’t quit I’d make myself sick.
“Papa,” I begged, “we can’t move, not all that way. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to go to a different school.”
“Well then, that settles it,” he said. “You can read and write. That’s enough schoolin for a girl. You’ll just up and git married anyhow.”
“But I’m only thirteen,” I cried. “I won’t be gittin married for a long time.”
Papa didn’t answer. Just stood up and hooked his thumbs in his suspenders. “When’s supper, Carrie?” he asked, headin for the back door. Mama and me looked at each other. There wasn’t much chance I could make Papa change his mind, but I had to try. I followed him out the door.
“Papa,” I said, runnin to keep up. “Papa, please.”
“It’s done, Veda, it’s settled. I want you to stay home now. Help your ma. Yer almost grown, it’s time you learn somethin practical.”
“I’ll help Mama more, I promise. And I’ll change schools if I have to … just don’t make me quit.”
“Nope,” he said. “The new place is gonna take a lotta work. Your ma will need you.”
Cave Junction wasn’t even a real town, and I didn’t like it one bit. There was just some small shops and a couple of churches. And it was a good thing for Mama that one of em was Adventist. It was a pretty place, I guess, with the mountains and all, but once you got off the main road it was just forest. And back in the trees, where our house was, the sun almost never got in. It was always cold and damp. And gloomy.
“That hang-dog look won’t change anything,” Mama was always sayin to me. “Your Pa is right about one thing. You’ll be gittin married someday, and you’ll need to know how to cook and keep house. And when you do start thinkin about marryin, you keep this in mind. I won’t abide you marryin a man that don’t go to church. You’ll marry an Adventist or nobody.”
The Adventist church in Cave Junction was tiny. Just a few dozen people in the whole thing. No girls my age at all and the only boys was some snot-nose brats that hit me with spitballs. None of them was older’n ten or eleven.
There was some couples with little kids though. Babies. So when I got asked to teach the Cradle Roll class, I was happy to do it. It wasn’t really teachin. All I had to do was keep the little ones busy while the service was goin on, and it was a whole lot more interesin than settin through the sermons. Besides, I really liked babies.
Mama and Papa kept sayin I’d be gittin married someday, but I couldn’t see how that could happen. There was only one time I even come close to meetin somebody, and Mama run him off.
It was not long before my fourteenth birthday, and the first bright sunny day in months. Papa’d brung a young fella home from town to help clear a place for a garden, and when I went out to take clothes off the line, I seen him. He was leanin on a hoe. Had his shirt off and was lit up in the sun like a gold statue. I never seen anybody so beautiful in my whole life. I stared at him for the longest time before I worked up the nerve to take him a jar of water from the pump.
“Thanks,” he said, wipin his hands on his pant legs. “I was real thirsty. I’m Hank, what’s your name?” He had the prettiest smile and the bluest eyes and my heart was thumpin so loud I was afraid he could hear it.
“I’m Veda,” I said.
Before he even got done drinkin the water, Mama was there tellin me to git myself back in the house. Then she marched over to Papa and I could hear her scoldin him. “Don’t you be bringin that trash around here no more,” she said, “I don’t want his kind takin up with Veda.”
She said he was trash, but he wasn’t no more trash than we were. I knew that wasn’t the real reason anyhow. It was ’cause he wasn’t Adventist, and in Mama’s opinion, that made us better than him. After that, whenever I went in to town with Papa, I looked for Hank, thinkin he might be at the feed store or where they sold dry goods, but I never did see him. Not even once.
Mama kept me busy. Cleanin, washin clothes, ironin. I worked in the garden, milked our cows, made butter, and learned to bake. But I missed school. Missed talkin to people my own age. The only company we ever got was family and even that didn’t happen very much ’cause of how Cave Junction was so far from where the rest of em lived.
My sister Bea’s girls, Rheba and Flossie, were younger than me but they knew all sorts of things I didn’t know. I didn’t like em very much, the way they was always sashayin around in their store-bought dresses, talkin about movie stars. Teasin me. But they was the closest thing I had to girlfriends, and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t of known nothin about nothin.
“Who do you like better?” Flossie asked me one time, holdin up her movie magazine. “Greta Garbo or Jean Harlow?
“Don’t you think Clark Gable is a dreamboat?” Rheba asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. Her magazine was in her lap, so I couldn’t see the picture. “What’s he look like?”
They giggled. “Oh Vee, you’re such a dope. Don’t you know anything?”
“Shut up,” I said. “If you had to live in Cave Junction you wouldn’t either.” They knew good and well Mama didn’t let me go to picture shows or have movie magazines. And they knew I wasn’t allowed to listen to anythin but church music. So when Mama couldn’t hear us, they taught me some of the new songs. Showed me some of the dances too. I didn’t know how they got away with the stuff they got away with. They was Adventist like us, but I guess Bea wasn’t as strict as Mama.
It was on one of their visits that they told me I needed to learn how to kiss.
“I don’t want to,” I said.
“Try it,” Rheba said. She balled up her hand and put it on her lips and kind of rubbed it around. “It feels nice. You’ll want to when you meet a boy you like. You know how boys are. Always wantin to do things.”
“What things?” I asked.
That got em to gigglin again. “You know. Things.”
know. How would I? All Mama ever told me about boys was, “Don’t let em touch your business.”
HERE WAS TWO LITTLE GIRLS
in the Cradle Roll class that really took to me, so their mother, Mrs. Carlson, asked if I would come work for her. Her husband was a travelin evangelist who was away from home a lot and she said she needed help takin care of the girls. There’d be housework too, so she wanted me to stay at her house all week. Said I could go home and be with my folks over the Sabbath.
“Tell her you’ll do it,” Mama said. “It’ll be good practice for you.”
“But don’t you need me here?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “You’ll be gone soon anyhow. You’ll be gittin married and goin off … just like your sisters.”
“Why’re you so sure I’ll even git married?”
“You will, Veda. The Lord will send someone. You’ll see.”
At first I was real nervous about workin for Mrs. Carlson, but she was patient and I got on real good with the little girls. She give me a real swell room, too. Once the supper dishes was done I could be by myself and do whatever I wanted. I had this stack of old magazines that Flossie had give me, so I was finally able to look at em without Mama knowin. And it was good not to have anybody tell me to stop bitin my nails, or set up straight, or give me things to do ’cause “idle hands is the devil’s tools.”
One night after I been at the Carlsons’ about a year, the missus come in the kitchen where I was peelin potatoes and told me to fix extra. “There’s a young man coming to supper,” she said. “He’ll be staying here at the house.” She grinned at me. “He’s new in town, so I want you to be nice to him. His name is Raymond Ames. He’ll be working with my husband. We told him about you and he wants to meet you. You’ll like him.”
I knew that had to be Mama’s idea. Why else would this Raymond person want to meet me? What was there to tell about me anyway? I wasn’t much to look at. I was plain, flat-chested, tall for a girl, and boneskinny. As soon as Raymond got there, Mrs. Carlson dragged me into the front room. She hadn’t told me he was handsome, but there he was, ever bit as good lookin as Clark Gable. Thick, shiny black hair. A strong, square jaw and eyelashes that had no business bein on a man.
“This is Veda, the girl we told you about,” Mrs. Carlson said, pushin me in his direction. “She’s a long time member of the church, and she teaches Sabbath School.”
He smiled and held out his hand. “How do you do?”
I stood there like a dummy.
When he saw I wasn’t goin to shake his hand, he dropped his arm and knelt down in front of the little girls. “I’m Raymond,” he said, reachin for the older one. “What’s your name?”
“Lydia,” she said, twistin back and forth. “I’m four.”
Raymond took Anna’s tiny hand. “And who are you?” She giggled. “Do you have a name?” Anna grabbed for her mommy. She was only two.
“Tell him your name,” Mrs. Carlson said.
Anna giggled again, and Raymond patted her head. “That’s all right,” he said, “you can tell me later.”
I liked how he was with them, and I wished I hadn’t acted so dumb.
Mrs. Carlson frowned at me. “Veda, take Raymond’s hat. Then come help me get supper on the table.”
I put his hat on the rack by the door, and went on in the kitchen.
“Why didn’t you say something?” she scolded. “He was anxious to meet you.”
Mrs. Carlson put Raymond smack-dab across the table from me so ever time I looked up I seen him lookin at me. I felt like he expected me to say somethin, to join the conversation, but I couldn’t think of nothin to say. I felt sick to my stomach and I could barely breathe. Him and Mr. Carlson talked all through supper. About the prayer meetins. The songs Raymond would pick out for the services. The scriptures, the weather, Mr. Carlson’s garden, and President Roosevelt.
I liked hearin him talk. Liked his voice. It was slow and sing-songy. And I could tell he was smart ’cause of the all the big words he used. After supper I finished the dishes and started to go to my room, but Mrs. Carlson stopped me. “Why don’t you go in the parlor and talk to Raymond?”
“Uh-uh,” I said, “I … I’ll just go to my room.”
“Oh, go on, he won’t bite.”
“I can’t. I wouldn’t know what to say. I don’t know … anythin.”
“Just sit with him. Let him do the talking.” She give me a little push. “Go on, stop being silly. He’s a nice young man. He wants to visit with you.”
I crept in, huggin myself to keep from shakin. “Mrs. Carlson said … she said you want to talk to me?”
Raymond looked up, “Why yes, Veda,” he said. He put his finger between the pages of his Bible, to hold his place, and patted the cushion next to him. “Come sit down. Tell me about yourself. How long have you worked here?”
I sat down, edgin as close to the end of the davenport as I could git. “About a year,” I said.
“So you must be sixteen? Seventeen? Did you graduate from school?”
“Seventeen,” I said. “I didn’t graduate. We moved here and Papa…” I hung my head. “I only went to seventh grade.”
“Well now,” he said, “that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I only finished eighth grade myself.”
I looked at him. “But…” I said, “you’re so smart.”
“Well,” he said. “I read a lot. The Bible. Newspapers, dictionaries, encyclopedias. And I have a good memory.”
“I’ve just come from Portland,” he said, “where I was doing canvass work for the church. Do you know what that means, Veda? To canvass?”
I felt myself blush. “No.”
“A canvasser is a person who makes contact with people, in my case, by going door to door, to ask opinions about things, or to inform them of something important.”
I pictured the Watkins man with his heavy suitcase full of soaps and such.
“My job was to tell people about the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And to introduce them to Ellen G. White’s book, The Great Controversy. Do you know it?”
“My mother has one,” I said.
“Have you read it?”
I blushed again. “Some of it.”
“Well now, I’ll have to get you a copy of your own,” he said. “The book describes the end-times. Tells what will happen in the world before Jesus returns.”
“Oh,” I said. I hoped he would talk about somethin else.
“Canvassing is difficult work,” he said. “Most people are close-minded. They won’t listen. I’ve had doors slammed in my face. Dogs sicced on me.”
“Why do you do it then?” I asked.
He looked surprised. “It’s my calling. I have always wanted to spread God’s word, to spread the Adventist truth. Canvassing is a way to take the message to people.”